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Monday, September 18, 2006


Allow me to go back in time for a moment to what happened to Michael Jordan when he joined the Wizards. The organization basically brought him on board not because of any business savvy they felt he would bring to the company, but for who he was and what he had done on the basketball court. He is one of the greatest players of all time and more important than that, one of the highest ticket sellers of all time. The Wizards organization brought Jordan on believing he would make them players in the free agent market, feeling that young players who grew up fans of his would want to be apart of anything he was associated with, and bring some much needed fan fare. After one bad draft pick (Kwame Brown) and one bad trade (Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse); the future of the franchise didn’t look so bright with Jordan as President. The organization then came to the realization that the only worth Jordan had to them was as a player. At that point they talked him into (temporarily) selling his shares in the company, stepping down as President of basketball operations and coming out of retirement for the sake of the franchise. The result was a record number of sell out games and an increase in the sale of Jerseys. Once his old body started to break down and he once again retired the company knowing that all he was worth to them, declined to give him back his title as President or sell him back his stock in the company. Could we be looking at the same predicament for Jay Z? Don’t get me wrong, I love to see black folks advance but I’m not one to run with what is fed to me as “advancement”. I see us as Brown skinned Americans being used. I know the saying if you can’t be used you’re useless and all that, but it depends on what you allow yourself to be used for.
For instance, the Brooklyn Nets thing, Bruce Ratner wants to bring the Nets to Brooklyn. He needs to build a new stadium which he knows will cause a problem among current residents who won't want the influx of traffic and congested streets; and who would probably protest in fear of losing their homes. So he gets Jay Z on as a minority owner (meaning he really has no say in the day to day operations of the project) to lure Brooklyn residents into a false sense of security. Believing Jay Z to be such an ambassador of Brooklyn in the Hip Hop community, people from Brooklyn would put more trust into the project with his involvement. They also believed that by adding Jay Z they could attract young players/ free agents who may be fans of his music which they hope will lend some level of influence over their decision making in choosing teams to play for. Def Jam became a sinking ship, so they brought in L.A Reed as C.E.O who is mostly known for breaking in R&B acts but doesn’t really command any respect in the hip hop arena. Execs brought in someone they believed all artists including hip hop artists would respect, Jay Z. They also probably felt that he would give the label leverage in bidding wars for other performers, and his power in the industry would increase the sales of new and old Def Jam artists; as fans would be more inclined to buy an album if they felt Jay Z was somehow involved in the project or co-signed the artist. He’s a pawn in my opinion, a whore to the industry that’s being put back on the strip to push his most marketable asset.

President of Def Jam and all, Jay Z is still an employee and as an employee he can still be fired. We often look at the amount of money these individuals make and allow ourselves to overlook some very important factors. We feel that their money will allow them to put themselves in better positions to make bigger and better things happen resulting in some type of significant power for the Brown skinned American community. You have to first think, are these individuals even working towards community improvement? If someone can sign a check to pay them a hundred million dollars imagine how much money that person is seeing! How can you ever make yourself a relevant player in the game if all the other players move 4 steps ahead for every step you take? It’s not like these “advancing” individuals are taking steps towards independence. They’re not building CD manufacturing companies, they’re not starting their own distribution outlets, they’re not investing money, time, or attention in things like black owned radio stations, or record stores, to ensure that if they get black balled for stepping out on their own, should they attempt to, they still will have relevant places that will except and promote their music. We’ve all been fooled into thinking these individuals to be powerful but in reality, their only powerful to the powerless and in the land of the powerful they have little to no power at all. They’re happy with that though, as long as a brother has more than another brother, he’s happy. At the same time, blacks seem content with having less than a white man because he feels he should or isn’t supposed to surpass. To quote Treach of Naughty by Nature, “The chain remains”.

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Adam said...

Great post! So many people are blinded by titles that they don't see what's really going on. Jay-Z is essentially a figurehead in his "high ranking" positions and what's worse is that for Def Jam it doesn't seem to be working.

Anonymous said...

That is a deep article and well thought out. I would have to give Jay-Z the benefit of the doubt on this one. Rocafella is still his if I remember correctly, so it's not as if Def Jam can even afford to fire him given their recent track record. The point about "brown skinned celebrities" having more real power such as distribution and cd manufacturing companies is well taken. The one aspect about hip hop that I love though is that artists in this genre of music generally have an entrepenurial spirit anyway. So if that means mixtapes being sold out of the back of the trunk, or selling on the internet.

Whether Hova is a figurehead or not, his positions in the industry of sports and music allows the youth who look up to him to aspire to be more than just an athlete or musician. And at least that's a start.